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Holtby braces himself for All-Star barrage

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Holtby braces himself for All-Star barrage

Capitals netminder Braden Holtby has heard all the horror stories about how being victimized in an NHL All-Star Game could affect his confidence when the regular season resumes. He doesn’t buy it and neither does his goalie coach, Mitch Korn.

“I’ve never seen it really mess anybody up,” Korn said when asked about Holtby’s first foray into an All-Star Game. “(Anaheim Ducks goaltender) Jonas Hiller was very unfortunate. He got hit in the head in the All-Star Game (in 2011), which led to vertigo, which cost him the majority of that season.

“So, there’s always that risk, but this is uncharted territory because this year’s All-Star Game is different than it has ever been before.”

Tonight, for the first time, the All-Star Game will be a round-robin tournament broken into three 20-minute games of 3-on-3 hockey. The winners of the first two games will face each other in a 20-minute championship game.

Each of the eight goalies will be asked to play 10 minutes. Holtby said he gets the fact that there may be more eye-popping moves than eye-popping saves. And he’s cool with that.

“As a fan I’d rather see the players turn on the skill,” Holtby said. “The goalies, we’ll try to survive. Thank God it‘s only 10, possibly 20 minutes.”

“It’s far from normal hockey,” said Korn, who is attending his first NHL All-Star Game. “If I gave anybody any advice at all it’s to enjoy it. Make friends that you may have never known before and smell the coffee. In the roles we play, unfortunately, we never smell the coffee enough. Or the roses, you know what I’m saying. Enjoy the moment.”

Holtby was asked his opinions on a variety of topics in his first All-Star Weekend experience. Among them:

On the most dynamic duo in the NHL:

“I haven’t played against (Jamie) Benn and (Tyler) Seguin this year, so I’d have to give (Claude) Giroux and (Wayne) Simmonds some credit. On their power play and the way they move, they’re on the same page with screens and everything from the halfwall. I don’t know if it’s just against me or what it is, but they make it extremely hard.”

On why he loses his mask so often:

“The snaps come off on shots. The biggest problem with me is that by the middle of the game the chinstrap has no elasticity to it. It’s extremely tight at the start of the game and then halfway through it’s extremely loose.”

On being on the radar of Team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockley in Toronto in September:

“It would be pretty special. I don’t have a whole lot of history playing for Team Canada so it would be pretty cool to throw that jersey on and play against and with the best players in the world. It would be fun. Obviously, it’s going to be a great show being in Toronto, but that’s a long ways away. I have a lot of improving to do in order to give the Capitals the best chance in the playoffs this year and that’s my main focus.

On being a late bloomer out of the Western League:

“I wasn’t really that that good back then. I was a late Western League pick. We didn’t have a very good team in Saskatoon. I wasn’t very good then. It was just a blessing in disguise because those years made me improve enough that I could have a chance to make the NHL. There were guys a lot better than me.”

On his work ethic:

“That’s what I was raised on. That’s really, I think, the only reason I’m here today. That’s been my strength. I like to work, it’s not a ‘have-to-do’ thing. I enjoy going out on the ice and seeing how many shots I can stop. It’s taken me here, so it’s been pretty fun.”

On the Capitals leading the NHL in goals per game at the All-Star break:

“There’s a lot of depth. Three and four lines can put the puck in the net. You know, the thing that separates our team from teams in the past is basically Evgeny Kuznetsov. We all knew what Nick could do and there’s a ton of weight on his shoulders at all times because of how he plays in all three zones and how talented he is. And Kuzy has come into his own as a No. 1 center. So we have two No. 1 centers with great support on the wings. Obviously, Ovi on the wall is a pretty good asset to have, but the center position makes the whole team click. They’re first back in the D zone, they’re on the forecheck, they do everything. They have to skate a ton and to have two guys that are absolutely world class creates a lot of offense.”

On Barry Trotz emphasizing defense without sacrificing offense:

“From Day One, he made sure we knew the best defense is to have the puck and be on the offense. It’s hard for the other team to score when you have the puck. That’s what he’s preached from Day One and I think guys have bought into it. You look at our defense corps, the way they move the puck. They can skate and they get the puck to our forwards and it’s in their end, and that’s pretty good defense for us.”

[RELATED: Caps All-Stars help lead East to win in Skills Challenge]

 

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Key Caps questions: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

Key Caps questions: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

To answer this we first have to know what a center is. A center’s main focus in the middle of the ice. He is expected to cover that area at both ends and be almost a third defenseman when the puck moves into the defensive zone. Because they are expected to cover more of the ice, they need to be strong skaters. They also typically are the best setup player on a line as they set up the wingers. Obviously there are exceptions where centers can be strong goal scorers and wingers can be good setup players, but this is typically their function.

So a defensively responsible forward who is a strong skater? Stephenson certainly has that skillset.

But there is a difference between a good skater and a fast skater. Jakub Vrana, for example, is one of the fastest skaters on the team, but there's no denying he is a winger. Stephenson always seems to be better offensively when he’s ahead of the play rather than trailing it. His speed is most effective on the counter.

If you want to know what the Caps are thinking, consider this. There is a spot open at fourth line center and the team signed Travis Boyd, a center, to a one-way contract and signed winger/center Nic Dowd as a free agent. It certainly seems as if the team is looking at options other than Stephenson to fill that spot.

General manager Brian MacLellan essentially confirmed this when he spoke with reporters in July.

“I prefer Chandler on the wing,” he said. “He seems to be more effective there, but I’m not opposed to him playing center, too.”

Stephenson is an option at center if the Caps need it, but it’s clear the team sees him more as a wing.

Other key Caps questions:

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Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Michal Kempny proved to be an absolute steal at the trade deadline for the Caps who acquired him for just a third-round pick. Washington had an obvious need for a top-four defenseman and they took a chance on a little-known blue liner from the Chicago Blackhawks who struggled to stay in the lineup.

It worked.

Kempny quickly found chemistry with John Carlson and his addition bolstered the team's top-four on defense, turning it from a weakness to a strength in the playoffs.

But can he do it again?

Kempny has only two seasons of NHL experience. The most he’s played in a single season is 59 games which he did in 2015-16 while playing in the KHL. As well as he played in the playoffs, it is a bit of a gamble to simply rely on him to take a full-time top-four role going forward given the NHL sample size is still small.

But there is no reason to expect any drop-off in Kempny’s play.

Kempny thrived with the opportunity to take on a bigger role. Here’s a breakdown of his 2017-18 season:

  • October to Feb. 19 with the Chicago Blackhawks: 31 out of 59 games played, 15:19 of ice time per game, seven points (1 goal, 6 assists)
  • Feb. 19 through the regular season with the Caps: 22 out of 24 games played, 16:45 of ice time per game, three points (2 goals, 1 assist)
  • Playoffs: 24 out of 24 games played, 17:42 of ice time per game, five points (2 goals, 3 assists).

Kempny went from a healthy scratch to a top-four defenseman once Todd Reirden got his hands on him, and, in case you haven’t heard, Reirden isn’t going anywhere. With a full season to work on him, there’s good reason to be excited about what Kempny can do going forward. He knows it, too.

Despite getting interest from other teams prior to becoming a free agent, he chose instead to re-sign with Washington for four years with a $2.5 million cap hit. That’s a bargain price for a top-four defenseman, but after struggling to start his NHL career, Kempny decided not to mess with a good thing.

Kempny proved to be a dependable top-four defenseman for the Caps throughout the playoffs under the tutelage of Reirden. With Reirden now head coach, there’s no reason to think Kempny will not continue to thrive in Washington.

Other key Caps questions: